Are We Too Sweet? Is Sugar a Dangerous Toxin?

First, let me say, don’t hate the messenger! We all want to be able to eat whatever we want and be lean and healthy. Unfortunately, it just does not work that way for most of us!  In my desire to always be learning, I have come across some research that I thought was worth sharing. There are a lot of facts and info packed in these few paragraphs, but don’t get bogged down – the last paragraph gives you some real practical advise!

World wide sugar consumption has tripled in the last 50 years. 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent treating sugar-related diseases.

Recently the Daily Oklahoman Newspaper had an article in it about the evils of sugar. According to research from the University of CA- San Francisco, “Sugar is the prime culprit in global disease and mortality.  By any other name, sugar would be just as sweet and every bit as toxic, a substance with a vast potential for abuse because of its addictive qualities, a dietary staple in the West and increasingly so elsewhere. The UCSF team (Roberts Lustig, MD, Laura Schmidt, PhD, and Claire Brindis, DPH) – non-communicable diseases now pose a greater threat than infectious diseases. Sugar is cited as a major contributor of diabetes, heart disease,  and cancer in what experts term a global obesity pandemic killing some 35 million people each year. Consumed at levels abused by most Americans, sugar changes metabolism, raises blood pressure, alters hormonal signals, and damages the liver. World wide sugar consumption has tripled in the last 50 years. 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent treating sugar-related diseases.”

Wow! A few days later, on April 1, 2012, 60 Minutes aired a segment about sugar. I will summarize the basics of what was shared.  Dr. Robert Lustig (same doctor cited in the newspaper article) believes that sugar is toxic.  He said that 75% of the diseases we face are preventable. Since 1970, sugar consumption is down 40% in the US, however, high fructose corn syrup has taken its place. Both cane sugar and HFCS are fructose. Our bodies very readily absorb the high amounts of fructose in today’s processed foods and our insulin levels rise (which is what causes the problems). In the past, people got fructose from eating fruits.  Because of the high fiber content of fruit, the rate of absorption is slowed down and we do not have the same insulin level spike after eating fruit.

Dr. Lustig did a very controlled study looking at the consumption of a high fructose corn syrup drink  and the rise in LDL (bad cholesterol). He had a group of people in a very controlled environment eating very specific foods. LDL cholesterol levels were checked and he found that within just 2 weeks of introducing a high fructose corn syrup sweetened drink into their diet, there was a rise in their LDL levels. The liver converts the over load of fructose into small dense LDL which is the fat that gets lodged in the blood vessels and forms plaque associated with heart disease.

Sugar is also becoming the focus of cancer research. Remember the insulin spike I mentioned earlier? Other research shoes that some cancers have insulin receptors which means that the  glucose floating around in the blood is taken up by these tumors causing them to grow. The tumors take up the glucose before the body has  a chance to sent it to our muscles or store it as fat.

As if this news was not bad enough… a neuroscience doctor is studying the addictive nature of sugar. Yikes, maybe we can’t help ourselves! When looking at the reward region of the brain, the studies show that our brain “lights up” when given a soft drink in the same way it “lights up” when given drugs or alcohol. We can build up a tolerance for sugar just like a drug addict builds a tolerance for drugs. At first a little bit elicits the reward response in the brain, but the more you eat, the more you need for that same reward feeling.

The sugar industry did respond to all of these studies by saying that the science is  not clear and that we should look at the whole picture. I found it interesting that Dr. Lustig pointed out that in the 1970’s the government said fat  needed to be reduced in our foods due to the rise of heart disease. When fat was taken out of food, guess what took its place – sugar! Hmm! Sugar plays a large part in the obesity problem which has steadily increased to epidemic levels. When an excess amount of sugar is floating around in our system, more than what our muscles need for fuel, our body stores it as fat!  No other way around it!  Dr. Lustig suggests that men need no more than 150 calories (37.5 grams) of sugar a day and women 100 calories (25 grams) of sugar a day. Ladies – that means a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using normal serving sizes for jelly and peanut butter and two slices of whole wheat bread is it for your sugar allotment for the day. Sugar is hidden in many forms in nearly all processed foods. Americans eat 130 pounds of sugar per person per year!  That is 1/3 of a pound per person per day – oh my! Have you ever noticed that “lite” salad dressings have less fat but more sugar than the full fat version of the same dressing. Become a label reader so you can make good choices concerning how much sugar you want to consume!

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